Teaching Inspiration En Pointe

As I push my grocery cart through Safeway, a song from The Killers pipes through the speakers:

Are we human
Or are we dancer?

As a former dancer, I am forever intrigued by those lyrics. Why can’t we be both? This song brings me back to the early 80’s when I was a dance major in college. Picture leg warmers . . . an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt . . . a super-high ponytail on just one side. The movie Flashdance came out during my sophomore year. Yeah, I was a “manic, maniac!

After just two years of twirling in academia, though, I changed my major to education and went on to teach kindergarten through college for the next 34 years. Yet, who I am as a teacher now is greatly shaped by my college dance professors who embraced both their art and their students. From them, I learned the importance of consistency, enthusiasm, and genuineness in teaching – qualities I didn’t learn in any formal education course.

First, there was Sybil. She may have had a last name, but she was simply Sybil to us. She piled her white-blonde hair in a bun and her flowy scarves trailed behind her. Most humans walk to get from one place to another, but Sybil glided. Her interactions with her students also had that same smooth quality.

My personal tendency is not-so-much to glide as to sprint through the day. But, when I think of Sybil I slow myself down. My students have stresses of their own; there is no need for me to compound what they are going through. In fact, I now recognize what Sybil was doing was co-regulating with her students. In slowing her speech and deepening her breaths, she encouraged students to do the same without uttering a directive.

Sybil was consistent, which provided stability for all of us. She once advised us to “check your troubles at the stage door.” In other words, have boundaries between the emotional drama-du-jour and the work of being a dancer. In my teaching, I release my problems at the classroom door à la Sybil. I have a much better day as a result, and I can always pick up my worries again after class if I want. More importantly, my students have a steady force in me, too.

Then, there was Donna. Donna didn’t glide, she bounced. My visions of her involve her leaping, twirling, and smiling all the while. She was tiny with sassy-short hair, but it seemed like she could stop an oncoming train if needed. Her passion and strength were and are inspirational to me. I remember what it felt like to be on the other side of that enthusiasm, and it is something I strive to bring to my class every day (even when teaching my stats students about “failing to reject the null hypothesis”).

Finally, there was Patty. Patty defied the pressures to be uncomfortably thin as a dancer. Rather, you had the sense that she could really enjoy some good barbecue. But no matter, she could launch herself through space like no other. And she used her body to not only fly but to ground herself deeply to the earth. Patty loved dance, and she wasn’t about to let anyone tell her she wasn’t doing it right simply because of her size.  She was confident and true to herself, and this is something I strive to bring to my teaching.

To be sure, not all my dance teachers were inspirations. The professor who told me to lose weight when I was already thin. The TA who literally threw a book at me when I forgot to bring mine to class. The ballet teacher who ruled cruelly . . .

In all, I learned from my dance professors that the person who is the teacher is just as important as any teaching technique. Author Parker Palmer wrote, “We teach who we are.” Sybil, Donna, and Patty were the most human of dancers, and it is that humanity I want to bring to my teaching each and every day.

8 comments
6 likes
Prev post: What We Do for Our DaughtersNext post: What Does It Mean to Be Trauma-Sensitive in Higher Ed?

Related posts

Comments

  • Christina Deloma

    February 14, 2020 at 9:21 am
    Reply

    Thank you for this piece Mary! Mrs. G my dance teacher in High School made me want to go to everyday, because for one hour […] Read MoreThank you for this piece Mary! Mrs. G my dance teacher in High School made me want to go to everyday, because for one hour I could count on the world being nice and I having a place in it. Read Less

  • Beth

    February 9, 2020 at 12:37 pm
    Reply

    Love the writing. I was picturing how these women moved and then appreciating your metaphor for their relationship to life. Thank you!

    • Mary Anne Duggan
      to Beth

      February 14, 2020 at 8:32 am
      Reply

      Thank you, Beth. From a feminist perspective, they also taught me a lot about how to own my passions in work as a woman.

  • Lori Walk

    February 8, 2020 at 7:05 am
    Reply

    I really like the "we teach who we are" idea. I've been implementing growth mindset, aromatherapy, and mindfulness into my critical reading and English […] Read MoreI really like the "we teach who we are" idea. I've been implementing growth mindset, aromatherapy, and mindfulness into my critical reading and English courses. The more I am kind to myself and forgiving of my mistakes, the more growth I see in my students. Thank you for the post! Read Less

    • Mary Anne Duggan
      to Lori Walk

      February 8, 2020 at 10:46 am
      Reply

      Well-said, Lori! I would love to hear more about your aromatherapy and mindfulness strategies. I, too, am very keen on the growth mindset as applied […] Read MoreWell-said, Lori! I would love to hear more about your aromatherapy and mindfulness strategies. I, too, am very keen on the growth mindset as applied to both students and my own teaching. Read Less

  • Regina Leigh

    February 7, 2020 at 5:35 pm
    Reply

    Dance cannot exist without creativity and a light that is born from within. In addition to consistency, enthusiasm and genuineness, I have no doubt […] Read MoreDance cannot exist without creativity and a light that is born from within. In addition to consistency, enthusiasm and genuineness, I have no doubt your students are blessed by your light and creativity. I remember your confidence back then, along with the leg warmers and pirouettes. Read Less

    • Mary Anne Duggan
      to Regina Leigh

      February 7, 2020 at 5:47 pm
      Reply

      Thank you for your kind words, Regina! And you were totally on my mind when I wrote this piece. :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About My Love of Learning

Welcome to My Love of Learning! This blog is for everyone who can count learning as one of life’s purest joys.
Read More

Latest Posts
Categories
Most Popular